Stikine VIII


We were beginning to worry about the weather. Our plane tickets afforded us 9 days, arrival to departure. We had spent 6 days waiting for a window, and from the top of the ridge, it seemed that we might get it on the seventh day. The Thumb was indeed baking above the clouds, but there was still plenty of snow up high on route. We radioed Wally for a forecast. There was good news, and there was bad news. We would get our window the next day, but it would only last one day before a low-pressure system would barge in for the foreseeable future.

We debated from the top of the ridge, the icecap draped below us. We could certainly try climbing the Thumb, but that would risk our ability to get flown out. Was it worth a multi-day vision quest down the Baird in bad weather? So many things could go wrong. But we're here, gotta at least try. The thoughts carried us back down to the tents.

Obviously, we ended up deciding to go for it. That evening, we skied to the bergschrund below the Thumb to make our approach the next morning easier.


Stikine VII


The next four days were spent mostly in either the sleeping tent or the kitchen tent. The piles of fresh snow that fell in the night were unable to support the warm rain that fell during the day. If we got a lull in the precipitation or a slice of sunlight, we went skiing rather than let our clothes dry. Usually, we returned from these short excursions in a full whiteout, no visual guides other than the shallow, ski-width indentations that led back home.

On the fourth day of whiteout, I got a sunburn. The clouds had thinned enough that we could feel, even see, the fuzzy white light through the fog, its warmth trapped between the reflective surfaces of glacier and cloud. My socks were finally dry. The Thumb, which had been receiving its share of precipitation, must be baking above these clouds, we supposed. One more ski-tour, this time to see if we could climb a ridge opposite the Thumb and break through the clouds ourselves.


Stikine VI

Once the buzz of the helicopter evaporated over the Witch's Cauldron, we set up a hasty camp and put our skis on. If the weather was going to turn, we might as well get some turns in first. Skiing across the icecap felt like walking across water, an endless ocean punctuated with granite spires. My heart beat rose, not from exertion but excitement. We scrambled to a small high point to gaze at Mt. Burkett, making hopeful plans that spanned the icecap and was contingent on 8 days of splitter weather.

I was in awe of the magnetism of the Devil's Thumb. Its looming presence both repelled and attracted my body on our descent to camp, while we cooked dinner, and even while we slept. The next morning though, the three thousand foot tall monolith, less than a mile away, was cloaked in moisture.


Stikine V

We arrived in Petersburg on a Thursday morning in June with good weather in town. By the time Wally gave in to our puppy-eyed begging, it was getting late and clouds covered the ice cap. There we no clouds the next day, however, and the Thumb was unmistakable on the horizon. On what would be the finest climbing day of the trip, we were weighing, and re-weighing, and re-weighing our gear in the Temsco hanger while we waited for Wally to return from a Forest Service job. Still unenthusiastic about us and the deteriorating forecast, he finally shuttled us to our base camp.

It was my first ride in a helicopter. It was amazing.


Stikine IV

To get to the Devil's Thumb, climbers generally choose between two options. The first is to have a boat drop them off in Thomas Bay (hang-out of the mythical demons kushtaka), trek 30 miles over the scratched and clawed Baird Glacier, up and over the Burkett icefall and across a piece of the Stikine Icecap. Jon Krakauer took a variation of option one, part of an epic so epic he included it in two books. The second option is to catch a ride with Wally at Temsco Helicopters.

Wally was not eager to fly three unknown climbers of dubious caliber into a range with notoriously unpredictable weather, and to a landing spot that can stretch the capabilities of his MD 500 on a sunny day. The last people trying to fly into the Thumb ended up going for the aforementioned option one after having trouble convincing Wally to take them. Wally has pulled bodies off the icecap, and if Wally says no, you're walking.


Stikine III


Ruth and I left Ketchikan in April of 2016. During the winter, Shawn, Quentin and I did make a plan to attempt the Thumb that June. Unfortunately, Shawn achieved gimp status after slipping off a wet roof while working, and the trip had to be delayed. My consolation was a cool month in the Tetons, and I began to slide into Portland more permanently with the Thumb receding from the focus of my attention.

By the time Shawn sent a message at the end of March 2017 asking if we were ready, I wasn't ready. Caught on my heels, half planning a different trip. Soon enough though, I was buying a plane ticket to Petersburg, where we hoped to charter a helicopter to take us to the icecap.


Stikine II

Shawn hasn't climbed in the Misty Fjords. Few people have. Even the indomitable Fred Becky bailed. But, Shawn said, you've looked at the Devil's Thumb, no? I'd heard of it, just like I'd recognize the name of any of the formations home to a 50 Classic Climb. Never spent much time looking at it though. Shawn said, well, Quentin and I have been wanting to do it for years.

The two had gone on several trips alpine-ing in the Canadian Rockies and the coast, and had been kicking around the idea going up to the Stikine Icecap and trying the Thumb for half a decade. I may have been cloudy with enthusiasm, but I remember feeling like Shawn was inviting me to come. Maybe we could make a solid plan now.


Stikine I

I lived in Ketchikan, Alaska twice. The first time was for only a few months in the spring of 2015, with a recent knee surgery determining my limits on and off the island's small, but beautiful trail system. The second time, that fall, I was eager to find people with whom I could get cold, wet, lost, and maybe a little scared. Within the first week of arrival, I knocked on the door of Fire Station 6, after hearing a rumor that the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad was building a small bouldering wall. It was there and on that very day I would meet many of the people who opened their doors and their gear closets to me. I borrowed scuba gear from Eric and Kara, skis from Quentin, tools from Shawn, car advice and elbow grease from Andrew, the list goes on. KVRS is responsible for so much of my good feelings for Ketchikan. At that initial meeting, I asked everyone about climbing in the Misty Fjords. Talk to Shawn, they said.


The Warmup

Starvation Creek State Park, Ore.



Starvation Creek State Park, Ore.


Starvation Creek State Park, Ore.









PDX Squared II

Portland, Ore.


PDX Squared I

Portland, Ore.




Smith Rock State Park, Ore.


Fuhrer Finger V

Mt. Rainier National Park, Wash.


Fuhrer Finger IV

Mt. Rainier National Park, Wash.


Fuhrer Finger III

Mt. Rainier National Park, Wash.


Fuhrer Finger II

Mt. Rainier National Park, Wash.


Fuhrer Finger I

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Wash.

Mt. Rainier National Park, Wash.


Bar drums

Oak Park, Ill.


Some Trump protest

Portland, Ore.


May Day VIII

Portland, Ore.


May Day VII

Portland, Ore.


May Day VI

Portland, Ore.


May Day V

Portland, Ore.


May Day IV

Portland, Ore.